Alice Wang grew up dreaming about the high-flying world of entertainment. She studied film at Yale and co-produced Lena Dunham’s first feature film, Tiny Furniture. In her early twenties she shifted gears to personally assist music icon Madonna. Subsequently, she assisted hotelier Ian Schrager. For Wang, scrappy budgets in film prepared her to be an entrepreneur, and assisting public figures gave her global insight. Last December, she teamed up with her friend Sara Jaramillo to launch the responsible shoe brand ILYSM. The debut design came with a strong focus on bringing creatives together on an online platform. In response to the Coronavirus pandemic this spring, the brand launched #ILYSM4Artists—a $500 weekly grant initiative for artists worldwide that is being developed into a future residency in Brooklyn. Whitewall spoke with Wang about ILYSM and how she’s dedicated to responsible design, creative expression, and connection.
WHITEWALL: How would you describe ILSYM’s community?
ALICE WANG: We’re taking a community-first approach. ILYSM’s mission is to inspire people to challenge norms and help them lead creative, meaningful lives. We believe that fashion can be a vehicle to connect everyday objects and experiences with artistic expression. Our shoes allow your feet to feel unconstrained, comfortable, and connected to the terrain you’re traversing; connected to an artistic community. We celebrate freedom, inclusive comfort, and meaningful connection. We’re designing, manufacturing, and selling sneakers and merch while simultaneously building a platform to support an ecosystem of artists and elevate new talent. We aim to bring art, adventure, and love to everything we touch.
WW: What does responsible design look like for you?
AW: We weigh the look and feel of the material, the longevity and durability, with the impact that it has. We use naturally derived, renewable, or recycled materials wherever possible. We’re committed to engineering the basic components of our sneakers so that the function and aesthetics are built in the design process, not by complex manufacturing processes that create unnecessary waste. We also hope to operationally collect and recycle ILYSM products that have reached the end of their life span, and recycle the materials into other products. We also work with an incredible start-up factory that pays its workers much more than a “living” wage. It’s really exciting to see a model for ethical, sustainable manufacturing being iterated alongside us as we grow. We embrace technology and how we can use technology to improve upon the manufacturing process and its impact—not just on the environment, but also on the lives of the people it touches each step of the way. Another thing we’re working on right now is related to our supply chain. We’ve experienced supply chain and manufacturing setbacks due to COVID-19 and have had to rely on a lot of airfreight, which has a significant carbon footprint. We buy carbon offset credits, but we’re also now splitting our shipments between air and ocean and hope to refine our production and delivery to reduce air shipping overall.
WW: What makes for a positive collaboration?
AW: To ILYSM, a positive collaboration with an artist means entering their world, looking at what we’re trying to communicate, and expressing it in their language. We hope to continue to work with talented artists early in their career and use the collaboration as a vehicle to garner critical attention and traction. We want to create as much mutual value as possible.
WW: ILYSM aims to shift cultural conversations. What kind of shift in culture are you hoping will happen?
AW: We’re motivated to shift the balance of power between gatekeepers in the arts and artists. We want to see a more equal and fair playing field. I’m hoping that we all move toward letting our actions match our values and supporting the kinds of activists, artists, and businesses that look like the world we want to live in! I hope that as we all become more educated and better understand the experience of marginalized communities, we continue to have open conversations with one another; not afraid of being wrong, being held accountable, and course-correcting appropriately. I hope that social distancing helps us all hold meaningful connection that much more dearly, and that powerful corporations and innovative start-ups decide to put their talents and resources toward creating positive meaning and value in the interactions we have with technology and each other.
WW: What’s next?
AW: We just launched our vegan sneaker. It’s knit from polyester yarn recycled from postconsumer water bottles and has a cork and recycled foam sole. We also just launched a $99 art store, where we sell merch, prints, and small pieces of work by artists that we’ve teamed up with via the #ILYSM4Artists initiative. We’re working on developing new styles and collaborations with artists and brands, exploring the world of AR/VR, and dreaming about what we can create with technologies of today and tomorrow!